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Binder For Brisket: Is This Step Really Necessary?

Have you ever used a binder for your beef brisket? If not, are you familiar with the term? Let’s talk about this preliminary step to determine whether it’s essential to the success of your barbecue.

Binder For Brisket

A binder is an ingredient used to help the spice rub adhere to a large cut of meat—brisket, in this case. While the step isn’t strictly necessary, it’s fast and easy, and should lead to a more uniform bark. Mustard is a common binding ingredient, but you can also use olive oil, hot sauce, mayonnaise, or even plain water.

What Does The Term “Binder” Mean?

The purpose of a binder is to hold the seasoning rub in place, thereby “binding” the spices to the meat. Some pitmasters prefer the term “slather,” but if you hear either of these words in relation to brisket, they usually mean the same thing.

In addition to holding the ingredients in place, the binder can contribute to the formation of the bark. Depending on what you use as a binder (see The Best Ingredients For Binding, below), it may also provide another layer of flavor.

Why Use A Binder For Brisket?

Using a binder will help to prevent the dreaded “patchy bark” phenomenon, thereby creating a uniform layer of crunchy goodness. As we pointed out, it can also be used to boost the flavor, though the difference will be subtle.

If you opt to add the seasoning rub directly to the meat, some of the spices may fall off in the smoker. This will affect both the texture of the bark and the flavor of the finished brisket.

Can You Skip The Binder?

The short answer is yes. You don’t really need to use a binder for your brisket, nor for any other cut of meat. We would still recommend using one in most cases, though, especially since the step requires so little effort.

If you’re worried that the binder will overpower the flavor of your seasoning rub, you can use a neutral ingredient. Olive oil and water are two acceptable substitutions for the usual prepared mustard.

However, we should point out that you probably won’t even notice the flavor of the binder itself once the brisket is cooked. Although the ingredient can complement the taste of the rub, it typically blends in with the other flavors.

Binder vs. Spice Rub

The difference between a binder and a spice rub is simple. The spice rub is used to season the meat as it cooks, while the binder is there to make sure the spices stay right where they’re supposed to.

A binder shouldn’t be considered a substitute for spice rub. You can season the brisket without using a binder, but slathering the meat with mustard or another wet ingredient won’t have much effect by itself.

The Best Ingredients For Binding

Regular yellow mustard is the most popular binding ingredient. It’s inexpensive, easy to find, and complements the ingredients found in many spice rubs. What’s more, its bright yellow color stands out against the meat, which helps to ensure even coverage.

You can substitute another type of mustard for the yellow variety if you’d like. Dijon and spicy brown mustard work well. We would steer clear of the whole-grain version—it doesn’t hold the spices in place as well, and the whole mustard seeds might interfere with the other flavors.

Other ideas for binding ingredients include:

  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Hot Sauce
  • A1 Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Beef Stock or Broth
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Water

What NOT To Use

Don’t be tempted to use binding ingredients that contain a lot of sugar or salt. Sugar will increase the risk of burning or charring, which will give the bark a bitter flavor. Your spice rub should contribute all the salt you need, especially if you’ve already brined the brisket (see below).

What Effect Will The Binder Have On The Bark?

Be aware that your binding ingredient can influence the texture of the bark. If you choose to slather the brisket with mustard, the bark will be softer than it would if you’d used olive oil (or no binder at all).

If your goal is to achieve a hard, crispy bark, you might want to substitute olive oil for the mustard. Make sure to coat the brisket evenly, and use at least 1 tablespoon of spice rub for every pound of meat.

Also, remember that if you wrap the brisket in foil, you’re essentially steaming the meat inside the wrapper. This can also have an adverse effect on the bark.

You can counteract the issue somewhat by placing the unwrapped brisket back on the smoker toward the end of the cooking time. However, if the bark was already on the soft side before you wrapped the meat, this won’t work as well.

Will The Binder Affect The Smoke Ring?

Studies have shown that using a binder for brisket has only a minimal impact on the size and quality of the smoke ring. That said, there is a slight difference, so it’s something to consider if an impressive smoke ring is high on your priority list.

By means of experiment, testers compared three briskets with a binder to a fourth that used no binder at all. One of the “bound” briskets was slathered with a layer of olive oil, while the second and third used mustard and mayonnaise, respectively.

When the finished briskets were compared, the one with no binder had a noticeable smoke ring. The brisket that used olive oil as a binder also had a smoke ring, but it wasn’t as prominent. Next in line was the mustard-slathered brisket, with the mayonnaise-coated one having the smallest smoke ring of all.

In short, if you want to ensure that your brisket has a pronounced smoke ring, you’re probably better off skipping the binder. However, be sure that the surface of the brisket is slightly damp, so that the spices will adhere.

How To Use A Binder For Brisket

Before adding the binder, trim the brisket, if desired, and set the trimmings aside for another use. Pat the meat dry with paper towels.

Add your chosen binding ingredient, taking care to form an even layer. Be sure you have enough binder on hand before you begin. A 12-pound brisket may need up to 1/2 cup of binder to ensure good coverage.

Once the brisket is slathered, add the spice rub, pressing gently so that the spices cling to the meat. At this point, you can refrigerate the brisket for up to 24 hours, or leave it at room temperature for up to 1 hour while you wait for the smoker to heat up.

Do You Have To Use A Binder For Brined Brisket?

You don’t have to use a binder at all, but there’s no reason to skip the step just because you opted to brine the brisket beforehand.

Since the brining process will impart a salty taste, consider cutting back on the amount of salt you use in your spice rub. Also, as we mentioned earlier, make sure that your binding ingredient is relatively low in salt.

Water, olive oil and mayonnaise are good binding options for brined brisket. Regular prepared mustard should also be fine, but skip the Dijon, as it contains higher sodium levels than its yellow cousin.

Can I Still Add Barbecue Sauce If I Used A Binder?

Yes, you can add barbecue sauce to your brisket even if you used a binding ingredient in the beginning.

During the long smoking process, the binder will blend right in with the bark. If you used mustard as a binder, the brisket might appear bright yellow for the first few hours, but this effect will lessen over time.

Since we don’t recommend adding barbecue sauce until the final stage of the cooking process anyway, the use of a binder shouldn’t affect this decision. In our opinion, a properly smoked brisket doesn’t always need sauce, but whether you add it or not is up to you.

Can You Use Binder For Pork?

Yes. Many seasoned pros use a binder when preparing their pork butt or pork shoulder for the smoker. Aaron Franklin, whose MasterClass teaches novices the art of Texas BBQ, has said that he favors mustard and hot sauce as binding ingredients.

Remember: Using a binder won’t have a dramatic effect on the flavor of the meat. It’s there to act as a conduit between the meat and the spice rub. That means you can use one on any large cut of meat, even chicken and turkey.

The Bottom Line

A binder isn’t a prerequisite for successful brisket, but it will give you peace of mind n the early stages of the smoke.

Since you don’t want to lift the lid for the first few hours, you won’t be able to tell if the spice rub is staying where it’s supposed to. Using a binder can help to take the guesswork out of this step.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!